rbk is the author of The BruceBall Blog and is happy to be helping fill Joel's shoes while he is out. Funny how it takes a dozen different people to do this . . . Joel does great work.
Poop! Last night's loss makes this a little less fun, but thankfully our resume is still very solid and things look good for a good run in March. First, here's a quick breakdown of what that resume actually looks like:
Road/neutral record: 11-3
Last 10: 9-1
Losses: Texas (RPI: 4, likely 1/2 seed) at a neutral site, Kentucky (RPI: 65, marginal bubble team at best) on the road, Vanderbilt (RPI: 7, likely top 5 seed) on the road.
Key wins: West Virginia (RPI: 35) and Western Kentucky (RPI: 53) at neutral sites, Xavier (RPI: 6) away, Gonzaga (RPI: 34) semi-away, Ole Miss (RPI: 45) at home, Vandy (RPI: 7) at home, Ohio State (RPI: 51) at home, Mississippi State (RPI: 41) away, Florida (RPI: 61) at home, Arkansas (RPI: 36) at home, Memphis (RPI: 2) away.
Kentucky is the only loss that could be considered bad, but they have come on in conference play and have an outside (very outside) shot of getting into the tourney at this point. That is really the only blemish to speak of on the resume; the other two losses were to RPI top 10 teams, and our overall record, RPI, SOS, road/neutral record, and last 10 record are all very nice. Despite the gnashing of teeth over last night's loss and the criticism that goes along with it, the Vols have a very strong resume, and should be considered likely to get a #1 seed if they finish well.
Most bracket pickers agree, according to The Bracket Project's bracket matrix. Eight pickers have updated since the Vandy game, and 6 have the Vols as a 1-seed. Nearly every other picker had the Vols as a 1-seed after the Memphis game, but have yet to update since the Vandy game.
Prior to last night's loss we may have been looking at the #1 overall seed, putting us in the East region to play the opening two rounds in Birmingham and the regional in Charlotte. This seems unlikely now unless there is some stumbling around us. It seems likely that we may end up in the West (Phoenix) or the Midwest (Detroit) if we remain a 1-seed.
Looking good, right? I think so. But there is one oddity to mention. A couple of researchers from the University of North Florida developed the Dance Card a few years back, and it's highly accurate in projecting the field of 65. While it's not intended to actually seed the teams, by its very nature it should sort the best resumes to the top. Well, here's what's weird. Prior to the Memphis game, Tennessee was the top pick on the Dance Card with a rating of about 8.7. After beating Auburn and Memphis, the Vols dropped (yes, dropped) to 3rd with a rating of about 7.9. Weird, right? You knock off a team with a big record and a big RPI on the road, and you expect to get some kind of positive bump. The opposite happened. The only thing I can figure is that the Vols lost a couple of top 25 RPI wins, with previous opponents dropping down a bit. That is a factor in the system, and maybe that caused it. It still seems a little wild that the system is so sensitive that this occurrence would overwhelm a huge road win. I would bet the selection committee will not view these events this way.
Still, the Dance Card, if used to project seeds, has the Vols firmly as a 1-seed. So the news is still good there. We'll see what it thinks of the Vols Sunday, when it will factor in the Vandy loss.
The bottom line--Tennessee remains in prime position to garner its first-ever #1 seed for the NCAA tournament. Hopefully this will set up a deep tournament run and make this a season to remember for Tennessee basketball. It's remarkable how far we've come in just 3 years.